By Gianna Addario
---- — The Hockey Night in Boston Summer Tournament remains one of the premier places for college scouts to evaluate top underclassmen in the country. It’s a chance for top young talent to showcase their skills against others their own age from across the country.
Earlier this month, some local players had the chance to compete the 33rd annual HNIB Sophomore All-Star Tournament at the Haverhill Valley Forum. Over 100 of the state’s top sophomores and freshmen were selected for the regional teams, which competed against 15 other squads from around the nation.
Team Merrimack, which consisted of 20 local players, made it all the way to the tournament’s title game and were crowned champions after an 8-2 win over Pittsburgh.
Four players from St. John’s Prep — Kyle Hentosh, Seth Murray, Kyle Lynch and Brian Groom — all earned spots on the Merrimack roster while Peabody natives Aaron Dollin, Aaron McDonnell and Christian Kukas also made the team. Other locals were Marblehead’s Braden Haley and Kyle Koopman; Beverly’s Ross Wahl; Middleton’s Anthony Mancini; Topsfield’s Michael Major; and Swampscott’s Noah Maercklein.
Mick Lafata, manager of Team Merrimack, put together a group of players he felt had the best shot at winning the tournament. With skaters from all over the North Shore, his team posted a 6-1 overall record.
“I got involved with my kids years ago,” said Lafata, whose younger son Garrett played on the Merrimack team while his older sons Colton and Brandon served as assistant coaches.
“A lot of these teams come from all over the country, so I wanted to put our own team together. Last year we had a great group of kids in the lower division, and this summer those kids were able to to play at the sophomore level.”
Head coach Mike Chamberlain brought in a core group of kids from his Greater Boston Viper team, and everything seemed to click for Merrimack from there. After two days of pre-tournament practice, Team Merrimack was put into the South Division along with Southern Florida, Mid-Atlantic and Philadelphia.
“Mick arranged some practices for the boys before the tournament, it was a good chance for the boys to get to know each other,” said Chamberlain, whose son J.T. also played on the team. “The kids got their legs charged up and we put some game plans in place, but just minor preparation.”
As it turned out, Team Merrimack was the youngest squad in the tournament, with five high school freshmen on the roster. The team also carried 12 forwards, which allowed Chamberlain to consistently roll out four lines. Most teams only had three lines, but with the extra skaters for Team Merrimack meant more skaters who could score.
“I would say that the whole team really contributed,” added Chamberlain. “All I had to do was manage the time to make sure everybody had an opportunity to play. We got scoring from all four our lines.”
The teams played seven games in a 5-day span. After round robin play, which Team Merrimack dominated, they moved onto the semifinals and then the finals against Pittsburgh.
“I had a lot of confidence going in and knew that we had a pretty good opportunity,” Chamberlain said. “It’s ironic because we were one of the youngest teams in the tournament, but I think that was one our advantages.”
Seven of the players from Team Merrimack were selected for the tournament’s all-star game, played later on that same week.
“I think this tournament really challenged the kids and it’s good for them,” noted Chamberlain. “Playing against kids from across the country that are on different levels, it’s a good experience for these kids to see.”